SARASOTA, FLA. — The Orioles will hold their first pitchers-and-catchers workout of spring training this morning, but manager Buck Showalter has been thinking about all the little things for months.
Showalter will go into today knowing every in and out of the Ed Smith Stadium facility. He can proudly unveil a new bullpen area on the back fields. He knows that right field of the Camden Yards replica field can get a little soft with a hard rain. He probably knows how high the grass is.
Showalter has done everything to ensure that Orioles spring training is the place to be for his players and staff. The facility is welcoming, as shown by the number of players who have been here for the past month and the bevy of position players here six days before the first full workout.
He knows that appearance matters, so the presentation of everything from the clubhouse to the hallways to the bullpens can exude a winning attitude.
Showalter walked through the facility on Thursday and showed off a huge photo of a fireworks display at Camden Yards from last year's 60th anniversary celebration in August. There's another one of the postgame celebration after the Orioles clinched the American League East one month later.
Both photos were still waiting to be hung -- trust in the fact that they will be hanging perfectly this morning.
Showalter proudly displays the new bullpen area – which features three full mounds and two lower rehab mounds – in an area that used to be the center field area of the facility's turf infield. Because the field has three infield diamonds on it for pitchers fielding practice, the addition of the pens can contain all pitchers activities to one field once full squad workouts begin next week.
This is what Showalter does to make sure the Orioles continue to move forward – even after their best season in 17 years. He's daydreamed of this idea for several springs, but pitched it to managing partner Peter Angelos this offseason and it became reality.
It's no different than the minicamps the team holds in January to evaluate the organization's young pitchers and players coming off injuries. The camps, which have been held in Sarasota the past two winters, allow the Orioles to get ahead of any possible health problems so they're not surprised today.
Showalter is so tapped into all the club's inner workings throughout the entire organization, like the need to focus on better defense at the higher minor league levels.
"We had some things we wanted to do," Showalter said. "We want to catch the ball a little bit better at Norfolk and Bowie."
Showalter said playing better defense at the higher minor league levels is an important part of developing young pitching, which both Showalter and executive vice president Dan Duquette believe is the lifeblood of the team's future success.
So that's why the team went out and signed unknown minor-league free agents like Paul Janish, Ozzie Martinez and Rey Navarro to provide stronger infield defense at Triple-A. He points to right-hander Mike Wright's second-half turnaround – Wright posted a 0.95 ERA for Norfolk in his last seven starts – and said it correlated with the team playing better defense behind him.
"I think it's a part of developing pitching is having people who can defend," Showalter said. "I think Mike Wright, him taking off had something to do with us getting better. ... They get real defensive and they try to strike everybody out."
Showalter insists concentrating on these little things – the ones that often go unnoticed over an offseason consumed by big-ticket signings – are things the Orioles have to do to overcome some of the big budgets of the AL East.
"There's some things we spend money on that other people don't," Showalter said. "It's kind of who we are and we've got to do it, whether it's putting those mounds over there with the rehab mounds, whether it's having a minicamp. We've got to do those things, whether it's paying a little more money for a six-year [minor-league] free agent than someone else might to make sure we get him. We haven't had to do that much the past couple years. We've been able to out-opportunity some people."